Question: I have a few marriage counseling questions. I am a married mom of three children. My husband and I have been married three years and both have children from previous marriages. We also have a child together. My first question is if marriage counseling addresses problems blending families together. When it is just he and I my husband and I get along great. But when his preteen daughter is in the house we are constantly at one another’s throats. What baffles me is that she doesn’t seem to cause those issues with her mother and new stepfather. My second question has to do with the fact that I feel like he is harder on my child from my previous relationship than he is on his daughter and our son. Are either of these things something that can be addressed through marriage counseling? Thanks for any help you can give me. Rayanne, Texas
Answer: Rayanne first let me say that the fact that you are seeking to solve these issues in your marriage is to be commended. Many people often throw up their hands in defeat when faced with such obstacles. Marriage counseling is often a very useful tool when couples struggle to blend families together. It sounds like you and your husband have a solid basis for a life long relationship and you simply need help finding ways to cope with other members of your household. As the mother to a motley crue of his, mine and ours myself I can promise you that you are not alone.
The teen years are widely known to be some of the most troubling years in parenting, but what is often over looked is the preteen years. Preteens are going through a form of personal identity crisis simply by existing. They are no longer children, yet they are not yet teenagers. So finding somewhere to fit in and feel important or validated is tricky even in stable families. For a preteen who has experienced divorce this can be even more difficult. And children, like everyone else, tend to strike out at the ones they know will love them no matter what. If your stepdaughter is causing more chaos in your home than in her mothers home it could very well be because she knows that her father will love her no matter what she does. This means your home is her safety zone. It also means that she may have more protective feelings for him and can react on those feelings in immature ways. Ex: Striking out at you or her other half/step siblings. She is free to let go of her anxiety, fears, and anger in your home in a way that she can not do at her mothers house. While this doesn’t calm the chaos, it may help you find a bit more understanding when you are dealing with her behavior.
It is a good idea to sit down with your husband and establish ground rules if this has not already been done. Children are experts at playing one parent against another, have a game plan for when she, or any of the other children attempt it. Take the time now to come up with If-Then scenarios. If she displays X behavior, then Y is her consequence. If you come up with every scenario possible I promise she will come up with something you have not thought of. But by laying this out and showing a united front it will help you both understand one another’s actions when dealing with her. This will help you keep the focus on her behavior and not allow you to turn on one another in frustration.
By sitting down and having the ground rules discussion you should be able to eliminate the differences in the way each child is treated. When we as mothers feel that our child is getting the short end of the stick it is often first instinct to lash out, but in this case the issues you have with your stepdaughter could possibly be coloring your view of events. If you feel like he should deal with her more harshly and he does not, feelings of unfairness or resentment can form.
And so the short answer is that yes the marriage counseling questions you asked can be addressed with a qualified marriage counselor but they are also appropriate for family counseling. If you are in a similar position as Rayanne please feel free to contact us and we will be glad to answer any marriage counseling questions you may have.